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President Obama needled Republicans yesterday about not passing a highway bill. “I mean, they’re not doing anything,” he said, “Why don’t they do this?” Today Paul Waldman told him:

Well, the reason they don’t do it isn’t hard to figure out: It costs money, and that means raising taxes to pay for it, which Republicans don’t like to do. We could also pay for it with deficit spending, but they don’t like that, either. And while the jokes are certainly good for a laugh from a friendly crowd, I’m not sure whether Obama thinks that’s actually going to make Republicans more inclined to work with him on this.

That’s Obama’s eternal problem, isn’t it? Early in his presidency he bent over backwards to play nice with Republicans, and got savaged for it by lefties. “Get tough!” they said. But he played nice because he had no choice. He needed two or three Republican votes to pass anything, and if he’d played hardball he wouldn’t have gotten them.

Now, having given up on Republican cooperation, he’s playing hardball and….getting criticism that this kind of thing isn’t likely to make Republicans any more inclined to work with him. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

Oh well. That’s life in the White House. The reality, of course, is even worse than Waldman paints it. Republicans don’t actually have to raise gasoline taxes at all. All they have to do is vote to keep them constant when you adjust for inflation. But keeping taxes constant still makes them higher than allowing them to decline automatically every year, so in Republican theology this counts as a tax hike. And that means no highways for you. Republicans would rather let them crumble into dust than approve so much as a penny in additional gasoline taxes.

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